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Rome, March 17 – Italy’s Council of Ministers has approved a decree that will allow for the building of the world’s longest suspension bridge between the island of Sicily and the Italian mainland.
Such a bridge has been discussed since ancient times, but it is the first time the project has received this level of formal authorisation, Xinhua news agency reported.
In a statement on Thursday, the ministry of infrastructure and transport said the bridge would be “the crown jewel of Italian engineering”.
The north-eastern most tip of Sicily is clearly visible from the western shore of Calabria, but deep water and fast currents between the two land masses mean building a bridge is a daunting challenge for engineers.
According to technical specifications, once completed the bridge will be 3,666 meters long, with a single span of 3,300 meters.
This means the central span will be over 50 percent longer than the 2,023-meter central span of the Canakkale Bridge in Turkey, currently the world’s longest suspension bridge. The Turkish structure, which connects the European part of Turkey to the Asian part, was completed a year ago. The bridge took six years to build, and reportedly cost at least $2.7 billion.
The timetable and budget for the Italian Messina Bridge project have not yet been announced, but according to previous estimates the project will take at least six years to complete, at a cost of around 8.5 billion euros ($9 billion).
As far back as 251 BC, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote about plans to construct a floating bridge to connect Sicily to the Italian mainland, and other projects were discussed in later centuries. The first modern-day project was announced in 1981, and a blueprint for the project was produced in 2005.
The case in favour of the bridge has included economic development both in Sicily and Calabria. Data shows the per-capita income in both these regions is around half that of Italy. The bridge would provide cheaper and faster transport, and connect high-velocity trains from the mainland to Sicily for the first time.
However, critics of the project are concerned over potential cost overruns, involvement by organised crime groups, vulnerability to earthquakes, and adverse environmental impacts.
According to Thursday’s statement from the government, the project will be paid for over several years by tolls on bridge traffic, with initial funding from the ministry of infrastructure and transport and the ministry of finance.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Matteo Salvini, said in Thursday’s statement that the project would be environmental friendly, reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation. It would also increase tourism and attract industry to the area, Salvini said.
The project will be based on previous plans developed in 2011, adapted to reflect “new technical, safety, and environmental standards”, the government said.
Further details on the plans for the bridge are expected in the coming weeks.